“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” – C.G. Jung
Although it may seem we’ve been hypnotized within chaotic events, there is a convergence and beauty when embracing the ever-increasing levels of chaos. I for one do not always experience time and space in a linear sense, so 2020 is another example for perceiving infinite possibilities within planetary destruction and purification. Moving into other dimensions, if you will, is a great conjunction of endless opportunities. I appreciate the knowledge within my spirit of having the power to harness my highest potential of being, through a federation of light and love. Throughout my journey, all art forms shall always come for the ride. Music will always be that revolutionary medium that I enjoy throughout my ascension process of galactic exploration.
With all that being said, let’s get to the top albums on my list. I must admit, this past year I found myself challenged in finding 2020 released albums that I’d consider great; especially on the fuzzier side. I think what made me the giddiest in the music world, was the comprehensive vinyl reissue campaign of PJ Harvey’s entire back catalog – plus her two albums in collaboration with John Parish. She also released (on vinyl and digitally) demo recordings from each album. The reason these reissue vinyl pressings are so profound is because most of her records were difficult to come by on vinyl due to limited pressings. For me, Polly Jean Harvey is one of the most prolific rock and roll badasses to record music. Every one of her albums is a work of art, and none of them sound the same. So truthfully, if I were to pick a number one on my top 10 list that I was most excited about in the 2020 year, It would be the PJ Harvey reissues on vinyl. (What can I say, I love PJ Harvey, and I love vinyl.)
Another album I would put in my top 10 that I don’t think is appropriate for the More Fuzz list, is Neil Young’s Homegrown album. Homegrown remained unreleased for decades. The album consists of material recorded between 1974 and 1975. Some of the songs have found their way on various albums through the years, however, this record is finally released in the way it was intended to be. Let’s be honest, Neil Young is a fuzz genius, but I’d be doing my list a disservice if I put it in my top 10.
A couple of other things I’d like to note before we dive into my list, which are two songs I recently heard. Please note, these songs have nothing to do with the fuzz music world, but rather more to do with the idea of creating art during the current times. These songs that I’d like to draw attention to, are songs I normally wouldn’t find on my musical radar. They were introduced to me by one of my brothers. I highly recommend them, because lyrically I find them to be profound during this current zeitgeist. A group by the name IC.33 (FR33SOL & Illuminati Congo) is filled with polarizing symbols and rhymes that are prolific. Their song ‘They Liv3’ is phenomenal. The editing on this song crushes skulls, period. Also, I’d like to draw attention to a group named RTJ4. On their latest release Run The Jewels – the song ‘JU$T’ (feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha (from Rage Against The Machine) is poetically heavy, with a verbal assassination tone during the spirit of our ethos. (Note: In addition to the song JU$T, Josh Homme is featured on a separate track on that same album… in case anyone is interested.)
In addition to those songs, I’d like to give a major shout out to El Paraiso Records for probably being one of–if not the most prolific record label companies out there. You guys are pumping out records from artists that are taking electric Jazz, krautrock, and modern psychedelia onto the next level. I could have easily filled my top list with a bunch of your 2020 releases but I decided to add most of them in my Honorable Mention list. El Paraiso Records, your brand, vision, and ears for the spectacular are everything I enjoy about music. I know the label is run by Jonas Munk & Jakob Skøtt, so thank you for killin’ it. I’ll continue to follow you throughout your journey.
Lastly, I spent a lot of 2020 creating playlists on my Spotify account (DJ-R). These playlists continue to bring me, my wife, and the space we live in, a soundtrack for exploration.
Without further ado, let’s enter my top 10 list of albums for 2020.
Top 10 Albums of 2020
10: Fuzz – III
Let’s begin my top 10 with one of multi-instrumentalist Ty Segall’s many bands, Fuzz. Returning with their third album III, Fuzz is all about rocking out heavy with some thick rhythm and blues, freak out style. III still has that garage rock head-banging sound however it’s probably their most refined production to date.
9: Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow
Mark Lanegan is a legend, as he continues to write music throughout different generational shifts. I’ve always been a fan of his solo work, so Straight Songs of Sorrow doesn’t disappoint. Mr. Lanegan has always been known for collaborating with some of the best in the business, Straight Songs of Sorrow provides some good ones: former Gutter Twins partner Greg Dulli, The Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones among others. The album is certainly on one of his longer LPs, and sometimes feels a bit too long, or rather maybe too many songs, but it still has grit, beautiful melancholy compositions, dark, death and longing. Mark Lanegan is a poet. Maybe that’s why I appreciate him so much. He’s great at powering words of a little devil sitting inside your heart while killin’ the blues.
8: Frozen Planet… 1969 – Cold Hand of a Gambling Man
Frozen Planet… 1969 continues to pump out quality albums. They have the ability to harness an organic, heavy psychedelic style, which almost feels reminiscent of records pumped out of the late 60s. The instrumentalism is a mix of almost Hendrixian tone, layered with funky-funkadelic beats. Cold Hand of a Gambling Man is one of two released albums from the Australian power–jammer trio. In October they also released Hydroculture, which is more material from the Meltdown On The Horizon session. After the epic jam that became the track ‘Rollback’ an additional attempt was made, jamming out the same idea which resulted in a more laid-back version. Both records demand recognition. These boys rip and trip-out on their musical time machine!
7: Carlton Melton – Where This Leads
Here we go with another Carlton Melton album. These guys always seem to find their way into my headphones. Where This Leads, the San Francisco band’s seventh record, are songs woven together with swollen sonic movements of abstract atmospheric rhythm, experimental avant-garde space, and heavy rock structured songwriting. I always feel like I’m entering other worlds when I travel with a Carlton Melton album, and this one is no different. The psychedelic elements meld beautifully with the progressive melodies. It’s got a meditative groove, which is texturally compelling throughout each song’s soundscape. It’s a fascinatingly complex album.
6: The Kings Of Frog Island – VI
Hailing from Leicester, England, The Kings Of Frog Island release their first record since 2014. VI is cut from a similar cloth as their previous recordings. They still bring the hypnotic and melodic, musically and lyrically. I’ve been a fan of these guys for many years, probably since their III album. They’re a breath of fresh air. VI is carefully arranged and cosmically delivered. Anyone not familiar with these guys may want to smoke a joint and dive into their album catalog.
5: Big Scenic Nowhere – Vision Beyond Horizon
Big Scenic Nowhere is what happens when a bunch of desert musical misfits who have been a part of the stoner rock scene since conception come together to play music. The resumé of the players in this band might be a mile long. Gary Arce of Yawning Man and Bob Balch of Fu Manchu are the driving force behind this collaborative marriage. Mr. Arce a delay-drenched sonic explorer with a tone tuned to DAD’GAD and Mr. Balch a fuzz-loaded guitarist master tuned to D standard, blast off Vision Beyond Nowhere. They sprinkle in a bunch of other pioneer legends throughout the album, so for that alone, I consider it one for the ages.
4: All Them Witches – Nothing As The Ideal
I must admit, I wasn’t super excited to listen to Nothing As The Ideal. I was a big fan of All Them Witches’ first three records, especially Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Then when Sleeping Through the War (Mr. Omen review) was released I thought they fell flat and lost their passion. Needless to say, when Nothing As The Ideal was released, I wasn’t planning on giving it a shot until my youngest brother recommended it. So I gave it a listen, and then another, and so on. Here we are at Number 4 on my list. ATW’s put together a killer album. They’re now recognized as a three-piece band. I personally feel they’re focused on going back to a sound that made them special during their earlier recordings. Through Nothing As The Ideal, they’ve captured a larger than life sound, yet they’re still raw and bluesy, which I dig. The songs on this album are dynamic, innovative, and provocative.
3: Brant Bjork – Brant Bjork
The desert rock-n-roll elder Brant Bjork continues to showcase why he’s an ambassador for being one of the stoner style founding fathers. This 2020 self-titled studio album happens to be his thirteenth solo recording. Brant Bjork is one of those dudes, we can talk about for hours, and recognize the long list of incredible albums he’s been on that are not–of his solo namesake; which would actually be a great conversation. Most of those albums Mr. Bjork has collaborated on are phenomenal, and they’ll most likely transcend time and space. That being said, Brant Bjork brings forth fuzzadelic riffs, funky as hell beats, stoner blues style lyrics.. and just straight rock and roll. I’m happy to place this album on my top 10 list.
2: Causa Sui – Szabodelico
Causa Sui, the Danish quartet has once again produced a masterful record. There’s really not much to say about Svabodelico, other than it’s filled with surf style, psychedelic jazz passages, and it’s perfect to listen to in almost any situation. It’s refreshingly light. It’s a meditative groove-masterpiece. Svabodelico embodies elements that Causa Sui is known for, which is an effortless feel-good sound that I love. Everything Causa Sui creates rules. Their record label (as I’ve mentioned in my intro) is the best around. If you love electric Miles, fusion jazz, krautrock, and Can… then this is the band and label you’ve been searching for. I recommend eating some psychedelic mushrooms, tune in, drop out, and hang loose on this album!
1: Lowrider – Refractions
Did anyone ever expect to hear a follow-up album to Ode To IO? (We also can’t forget about the 1999 Nebula/Lowrider Double EP.) I personally didn’t think I would. I heard rumblings throughout the last couple of years. Then 2020 comes around the sun, and they release Refractions which happens to be 20 years since that epic recording: For To IO. These Swedish desert rockers still got it. And this album stands alone as another masterpiece. It’s packed with heat. Thunderous riffs and groove, and larger than life fuzz sound. It made my top album of the year the moment I pressed play on my first go-around.
Now it’s time for me to conclude my Top albums (and songs) of 2020 with the Honorable Mention list. I must admit that I find creating these lists challenging to say the least; not every year, but this year especially. I’m always on the hunt for those once in a lifetime albums. Some years, the list feels easy, however, 2020 feels like a year–of missed opportunities in the music world. I understand playing live has been the kick in the balls musicians are experiencing during this time, but the studio is a creative vortex, a tool to blastoff the deepest emotional expression. I personally want to experience the highest level of creative juice from these artists… not just some killer songs woven in-between the not so killer ones. I recognize gems are just that: they’re hidden and discovered only to change infinite lives along the way. I’m hoping 2021 is the year of reckoning. The year artist around the world, pour their hearts and souls into their respective mediums. I’m looking for truth. I’m searching for real unadulterated, life-altering music. If 2020 can’t inspire you, then what can? One more thing, I’ve been fortunate to have been given two unreleased 2021 albums. They’re both ready to enter the new world order. Samsara Blues Experiment – End Of Forever, and The Age Of Truth – (title still undecided). I promise, both of these albums have already entered my top albums of my 2021 list, and will most likely make it to the top of that list. Stay tuned! They’re almost ready for release.
I present to you the Honorable Mention list, which has more than just the Fuzz style.
PJ Harvey’s entire back catalog on reissue vinyl. + The Demo recordings from each album. (Listen Here)
Neil Young – Homegrown (Listen Here)
Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
Kurt Vile – Speed, Sound, Lonely KV (ep)
Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto (An unheard concert by Monk and his great band (Monk, Charlie Rouse-tenor sax, Larry Gales-bass, and Ben Riley-drums) from ’68)
(song only) IC.33 (FR33SOL & Illuminati Congo) – ‘They Liv3’ (Listen Here) (From the album FR33SOL)
(song only) RTJ4 – ‘JU$T’ (Listen Here) (From the album Run The Jewels)
Ellis/Munk Ensemble – San Diego Sessions
Martin Rude & Jakob Skøtt Duo – The Discipline of Assent
Justin Pinkerton – Aak’Ab
Kanaan – Odense Sessions
The Kundalini Genie – 11:11
Kungens Män – Trappmusik
Kevin Morby – Sundowner
ICE – The Ice Age (unreleased album from 1970)
Randy Holden – Population II (reissue, as a proper release with RidingEasy Records. Original press on Hobbit Records, 1970)
Tony Reed – Blood And Strings: The Ripple Acoustic Series Funeral Suit
Eartheater – Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin
Mother’s Cake – Cyberfunk
Sleeping Pandora – All the Way
Bill Frisell – Americana
Bill Frisell – Valentine
Six Organs of Admittance – Companion Rises
The Budas Band – Long in the Tooth
Big Scenic Nowhere – Lavender Blues (ep)
Yuri Gagarin (SWE) – The Outskirts of Reality (ep)
Black Rainbows – Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur
EOB – Earth
Thievery Corporation – Symphonik
The Wood Brothers – Kingdom in My Mind
Surya Kris Peters – Leaving Berlin
Surya Kris Peters – O Jardim Sagrado
Deerhoof – Future Teenage Cave Artist
Deerhoof – Milk Man
Pusifer – Existential Reckoning
Kind – Mental Nudge
Jane Weaver – ‘The Revolution Of Super Visions’ (song only)